Julkaistu 16.02.2021



Markku Ellilä, TAF: Helping to advance sustainable technology

The world which is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic today is quite different from the one that fell victim to the Spanish flu 100 years ago. The casualties, so far less than 3 million globally, are below 10 per cent of the number of people who succumbed to the 1918 influenza. Although the global economy has taken roughly an 8 per cent hit in GDP, compared to the original forecast for 2020, the production of most necessities of life has not suffered major losses. Many businesses have improved their productivity due to the savings in working hours, traditionally lost in transit from one face-to-face meeting to another. As working from home has replaced physical business encounters, transportation companies and the hospitality industry have borne the brunt of the change, while positive effects have been seen in sectors like software and digital technology.

Under lockdown restrictions, the world would not be able to maintain its high degree of productivity were it not for the long chain of technological advances initiated by the scientific revolution of the 16-17th centuries. Several generations of industrial revolution followed, the most recent one bearing number four. Had the COVID pandemic occurred 10 or 20 years earlier, working from home would not have been possible, as personal computing devices and the interconnecting networks did not have the capacity to carry the video meeting traffic of the Teamses and Zooms of the world. Moreover, the communication software platforms were in their infancy and would not have been able to deliver the user experience necessary to support efficient teamwork across a distance.

In other words, there is no doubt that technology has brought enormous benefits to the world and made it more resilient against global threats. At the same time, it has also caused problems that cannot be overlooked. Earth’s resources are supporting a rich biosphere, which also includes mankind. Atmosphere, water, soil, and minerals are being consumed at an increasing rate due to human activities, such as industrial production, energy, transportation and feeding a growing population. The digital world is increasingly based on artificial intelligence (AI), which is making decisions that affect our daily lives. While AI-based systems help to bring the human knowledge accumulated over millennia within instant reach to all of us, the underlying algorithms are making it possible to influence public life and political systems in ways the affected individuals or their official communities cannot control.

The Millennium Technology Prize, founded by the State of Finland, Finnish industries, and academic institutions, has been awarded since 2004 to highlight the extensive impact of science and innovation on the well-being of society. The Prize of one million euros is awarded every second year by Technology Academy Finland (TAF), an independent foundation. The winning innovations are required to support ethically sound criteria, such as enhancing quality of life and promoting sustainable development and mitigation of climate change.

As the leading principles of the Millennium Technology Prize are well aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals, TAF decided to make a commitment to the UN Global Compact initiative and was admitted to this corporate sustainability network at the end of 2020. We hope that by entering this community, we will be able to participate in the global dialogue between companies and other organizations about the best ways to promote the SGDs for the benefit of planet Earth and its biosphere. We believe that while technology has played a role in the development leading to many of the global challenges facing us today, yet more technological innovations are needed to solve them. The Millennium Technology Prize aspires to have a positive influence in the process by encouraging researchers and innovators to do what is good for our future and by celebrating their achievements.

Markku Ellilä
Technology Academy Finland